So long Georgia Dome, it seems like I barely knew ya. Well hello Mercedes Benz Stadium.
A little over a month ago I drove past the new stadium site and thought to myself, “this thing will never be ready on time.” The places looked like a war zone and sure enough the Falcons scheduled their two home preseason games to the final two weeks.
I’m one of those on the fence about the new stadium. I’ve been a Falcons fan my whole life through thick and thin, but I thought the Georgia Dome was a great place. Being around only 25 years it seemed like it only opened yesterday.
I feel the NFL strong-armed team owner Arthur Blank into building a new stadium if the city of Atlanta ever wanted to play host to a Super Bowl again. The last Super Bowl played in Atlanta is still one for the ages as the St. Louis Rams held on to down the Tennessee Titans who came up six yards short as time expired to send the game into overtime. But there has been a big stigma against Atlanta since that Super Bowl.
Future Hal of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis was involved and acquitted in connection with a murder during the weeklong Super Bowl celebration. It’s still debated on what really happened with many believing Lewis was guilty of the crime. While he was not charged with the crime he wasn’t allowed in the city until his final year in the league. Between 2000 and his retirement after the 2012 season the Ravens only came to Atlanta for preseason games. Any regular season match ups were played in Baltimore.
And ever since that fateful weekend the city of Atlanta has been shut out from hosting the big game. Until now.
Team owner Arthur Blank announced at the end of 2014 he would be building a new state-of-the-art facility that the people of Atlanta would be proud. That came to fruition Saturday evening as the Atlanta Falcons christened their new home in humble fashion however, falling to the Arizona Cardinals 24-14. Oh yeah, the newly opened Mercedes Benz Stadium will host the Super Bowl in 2019.
Having covered the team for two decades the first thing I noticed was that the price of parking increased by a rate of about 25 percent over last year. Less than ten years ago I paid only $8 to park. I do miss those days.
Also across the street from the stadium was a parking lot exclusive to Mercedes Benz owners.
For years walking to the Georgia Dome it stood out in the skyline of neighborhood. No longer. It looks like a first aid tent outside the new stadium now.
The Georgia Dome could be daunting for someone looking for their entrance as it had multiple levels. Mercedes Benz Stadium’s entrance from what I could se was one level and the next thing I noticed was how friendly the staff was.
In past years you felt as if you were walking through landmines at the Georgia Domes as security looked for reasons to stop or yell at you. Maybe because everything is new they were more sedate but we’ll see as the season progresses.
Once stepping inside the place was intimidatingly large. I was like a city within the city. It took me a good half hour to finally get where I needed to go. I was sent on a wild goose chase over three levels before a member of the staff personally walked me to where I needed to be. He wasn’t too sure himself but thanks to him I got to where I was going.
One of the perks of covering pro sports is the legendary pre-game meal. Depending on the team and sport it can vary greatly. I remember I had a staff member working Titans games and he had to leave the press box early because he got sick from the food. A long time ago I worked an Arena Football game and the pre-game meal was a Subway party sub. If you didn’t get there within an hour after it was set down you were out of luck. To the Falcons credit they always had interesting spreads put a halftime meal for press. The new digs were impressive. There was a huge layout of food set out banquet style. There were four kind of salad to pick from. Getting there after everyone else the only salad left was a kale salad. I laughed to myself because photographers aren’t usually the healthiest of eaters. I remember years ago when they had an Italian themed meal with three different kinds of lasagna. The one left untouched was the veggie lasagna. Fresh vegetables and potatoes were served as long as a three-cheese mac and cheese. A Panko breaded chicken breast along with pulled pork was the proteins available as well as fresh baked goods for dessert. Even better if you believe such a thing is the fact once I stepped out the door I was five feet from the field.
To be as big as Mercedes Benz Stadium is it is an intimate venue. The fans are literally on top of the field, as the sidelines were cut in half compared to the Georgia Dome. It was 12 feet from the back of the end zone to the crowd and only a little wider along the sidelines. Floor level suites have a railing where they are at player level and only a few feet away from the action. The overall feeling of the place reminded me of Arena Football with the tight sidelines and the fans literally in on the action.
Another thing I noticed on the field was not only was the turf more comfortable under my feet, but the security staff was very friendly. Over the years I got to be friendly with a number of the staff at the Dome but at times they looked on edge. Everyone at Mercedes Benz Stadium were smiles and went out of their way to be friendly. I even joked with one of the guys that the stadium had that “new car smell”. We both laughed. Whether they’ll remain friendly we’ll have to see, as the new will eventually wear off.
Oh yeah, a football game broke out amid all the hoopla over the newest jewel in the city of Atlanta.
Matt Ryan and the Falcons looked out of sync with the reigning MVP being intercepted on his first throw in the new digs. Tevin Coleman looked great in limited time and the defensive secondary got burned a couple of times. But it’s preseason, right?
The defense did hit hard as they forced four Cardinal fumbles with Arizona losing three of them. It wasn’t until less than four minutes were left that the offense came to life. Matt Simms threw a swing pass to rookie receiver Josh Magee. Magee got his 15 minutes of NFL fame as he cut into the middle of the field and outran everyone 57 yards for the first touchdown scored by the Falcons in their new home. Magee unfortunately will have an impossible time making the team because of how deep the receiver corps are but might snag a spot on the practice squad.
With the loss the Falcons remain winless in preseason and finish up Thursday at MB Stadium as they host the Jacksonville Jaguars before opening the regular season on the road on September 10 against the Chicago Bears.
– David N. Marks
Enigma's mobile Concert Calendar!